How to Use Your Vocation for the Common Good
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Steven Garber’s new book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP Books, 2014).
The work you do every day isn’t meant just for your own benefit; it’s for the common good of everyone in the world. No matter what type of work you do – from caring for your children or running a business at home, to serving at an organization in any professional or volunteer capacity – your work plays a vital role in making the world a better place, because God uses everyone’s contributions in his ongoing work of redeeming our fallen world.
Reminding yourself of this will motivate you to do your best work in whatever vocation God has called you to pursue. In the process, God will weave your work into his own so that it can have a significant and lasting impact on the world for good.
Here’s how you can use your vocation for the common good:
Know the world enough to see what about it needs to change. Inform yourself about what’s going on in the world, such as by following the news daily and researching issues that concern you. Rather than turning away from the problems that you notice, pay attention to them and reflect on them, letting them move you to seek God’s guidance about how your work may become part of the solution to those problems.
Love the world enough to see that it’s worth changing. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the love you need for the people in the world whom God wants your work to help. Ask for faith that will help you step into the mess of the world and engage with it instead of letting discouragement and apathy prevent you from doing your part to change the world for the better. Recognize that you have a holy responsibility to respond to the opportunities God places in your life to help others through your work. Keep in mind that God knew the worst about the world and yet still chose to come into it incarnated as Jesus, because his love compelled him to act. Let Jesus’ love show you that it’s worthwhile to do whatever God calls you to do in the world, as well.
Count the cost but know that your work is worthwhile. Face the reality that using your work to serve others for God will always be costly. Expect God to call you to use all of your resources (time, energy, money, talents, skills, etc.) when you’re working at your fullest potential. But keep in mind that any work that God calls you to do is worth it, because God will make sure that it results in something good that has eternal value.
View life sacramentally. Ask God to give you a sacramental perspective at all times and in all places so you can see how everyone and everything is connected to him, and how every person’s work is woven into his work in the world. By learning to pay attention to that, you can learn how best to pursue your work to invest in what matters most without getting distracted by what doesn’t really matter.
Look for opportunities to work for justice and mercy in the world. Approach every day paying attention to situations that reveal problems that need to be solved through justice and mercy. Whenever you identify such situations, ask yourself: “Knowing what I know about myself and the world, what am I going to do about it?” Remind yourself regularly that Jesus constantly put his knowledge into action working for justice and mercy during his time on Earth, and he wants you to follow his example. If you know, then you should also care, and if you care, then you should also respond to God’s callings by taking action. You are responsible to do what you can to help others, for love’s sake.
Pay attention to messages in popular culture and reflect on them. You can learn a lot about the current state of the world around you – and how it could be better – by thinking critically about the messages in popular stories, movies, television shows, songs, and other artistic cultural expressions. Reflect on those messages as you discern how you can help make the world a better place through your work.
Commit yourself to serving the people wherever God has placed you. Realize that when you have relationships with certain people and places, you have a God-given responsibility to serve them. Commit to getting to know the lives of the particular people whom God has placed around you, looking for ways you can help meet their needs, and opening up your own life to them so they can help you as well. Incarnate who you are and what you believe with the people you know in your community: in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your church, and other local places such as parks, stores, and schools where you interact with them.
Participate in conversations about callings. Schedule time regularly to meet with friends and family members to talk about how God has been recently using the work you all do to help make the world a better place. Share stories and ideas, encourage and hold each other accountable, and support each other in prayer.
Simply give what you can and be at peace with that. Don’t worry about trying to somehow completely solve whatever problems you’re working on, or somehow meeting all the needs of the people you’re working to serve. Face the fact that you can’t do it all, and realize that God doesn’t intend for you to do anything beyond the specific ways he calls you to serve. So be at peace, relying on God to empower you to simply do what you can and leave the rest to him. Realize that something is better than nothing, and that when you faithfully do something, God will bless your efforts so you can achieve significant results in your various spheres of influence.
Move beyond duty to delight. Rather than doing your work out of a sense of obligation, ask the Holy Spirit to give you fresh glimpses of the good that’s resulting from your work, which will encourage you and help you truly enjoy it. Instead of just doing what you know you should do, ask the Spirit to help you want to do what you know you should do. Delight in the relationships and responsibilities that God has brought into your life – devoting yourself fully to them – and in the process, God will use your vocation for the common good.
Adapted from Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, copyright 2014 by Steven Garber. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Steven Garber is the principal of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture, which is focused on reframing the way people understand life, especially the meaning of vocation and the common good. A consultant to foundations, corporations and schools, he is a teacher of many people in many places. The author of The Fabric of Faithfulness, he is also a contributor to the books Faith Goes to Work: Reflections from the Marketplace and Get Up off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue. He lives with his wife, Meg, in Virginia.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Her Twitter handle is @WhitneyHopler.
Publication date: April 1, 2014